The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #13736 Message #115417
Posted By: Joe Offer
18-Sep-99 - 09:35 PM
Thread Name: Tune Req: The Face on the Bar-room Floor
Subject: RE: Tune Req: 'The Face on the Bar-room Floor'
From Victorian Parlour Poetry (Michael R. Turner, 1967 & 1969 - reprinted by Dover in 1992):
This tragic and graphic recitation is also known at The Face on the Barroom Floor. Its authorship has been disputed for many years. The Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature records that the first appearance in print was in 1872, in the Ashtabula, Ohio Sentinel published by John Henry Titus (1853?-1947). This, however, appears to have been a poor version compared to that printed 15 years later in the New York Dispatch (the version usually found in print). Appended to the Dispatch text was the name of the actor, Hugh Antoine D'Arcy. The barroom setting has been identified - by tradition - with "Joe's" on Union Square, New York, now vanished. As late as 1934, Titus was taking legal action to support his claim to the title. If I understand correctly, the original edition of the Turner book may have a photocopy of the version of the poem that Titus claimed as his own (or does the entry from the University of Florida mean that the University has the original, plus a photocopy of the D'Arcy version from the Turner book?). the Titus text is not in the Dover paperback edition. The search continues….
The piece has an astonishing durability. As recently as November, 1968, Ron Moody recited it with great feeling at the Royal Command Variety Performance in London, before and appreciative audience which included Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and the Prince of Wales.
This affecting tale is not unique in popular verse. It belongs to the family of verses about artists or musicians who appear mysteriously to draw a picture or play upon some musical instrument with passion and brilliance. They then either walk away without a word, or expire on the spot with a broken heart. The Shooting of Dan McGrew by Robert Service has elements of this genre; another example is Henry Lamb's song, The Volunteer Organist.
A man then staggered down the aisle
Whose clothes were old and torn,
How strange a drunkard seem'd to me
In church on Sunday morn
But when he touch'd the organ keys
Without a single word
The melody that followed was
The sweetest ever heard.